|THE SMITH CENTER||for Private Enterprise Studies|
by Josiah Coulter, San Leandro High School
2nd Place Essay Contest Winner, June 2001
The Napster phenomenon, which has made copyright protected music free to everyone, is good for the people, and bad for the commercial music scene. Napster has made it possible for people to trade any type of music over the internet without paying a dime for any of the songs. The record companies and musicians against Napster claim that if the music stays free, it could hurt them by taking away the money they earn from record sales that keep them producing. Of course a lot of people disagree, because these claims are all from the people who've already made millions of dollars.
How did all this controversy start? A couple of years ago, 19 year-old Shawn Fanning was attending Northeastern University when he got the idea to write a program that would allow him and his friends to share music files. His program was so good, however, that a few of them recommended that he make it into dot com company, and he did. He dropped out of college, moved to Silicon Valley, and formed the company. Within a few months time, he had already attracted thousands of users, lawsuits by five of the biggest record companies and a few top name music groups, and was banished from internet servers on college campuses across the nation. Shawn Fanning is the Savior for music lovers and the Devil to the recording industry.
Napster is truly a revolutionary program in that it delivers to the people their favorite hit songs, and is extremely simple to use. With a few clicks of a mouse users have access to thousands of songs. Gone are the days for internet users of driving cross-town to pick up $15 cds just so they could obtain a couple songs. With Napster you can get exactly what you want (in a short amount of time on a cable or dsl line) without leaving your home. Also, with the advent of portable mp3 players and cheap cds burners, the music still retains it portability. The variety of music available through Napster is higher than you would ever find at a record store. It all depends on what each of the 38 million users decide to make into an mp3; which ranges all the way from popular songs, to movie clips, to no-name bands in the middle of nowhere. Napster is such a simple, easy to use, reliable program that anyone with a computer and the internet can use it to get what they what. This is exactly what has been scaring the record industry and commercial bands so much. The first musicians to speak out against Napster were Metallica. On April 13, 2000 Metallic filed a lawsuit charging Napster for copy right infringement, unlawful use of digital audio interface device, and violations of the Racketeering Influenced & Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Their main complaint, however, was that Napster was allowing users to pirate cd-mastered, made-for-sales songs. They considered this theft and have seeked for justice through what has now become a multi-billion dollar lawsuit. In the beginning of the suit, Metallica and the record companies won a couple early victories by causing 300,000 users to get permanently banned from Napster. They also won an injunction against Napster that would force them to remove all copyrighted material from its database. Napster came back and asked for an appeal and planned to fight it in court. They just won their first delay. Another big-name artist who also decided to push the legal envelope on Napster is rapper Dr. Dre. When questioned on why he is pressing charges he stated to reporters; My original reason for going after them definitely wasn't to shut the company down, or what have you. I just didn't want them giving away my music for nothing. There's a lot of other people out there that felt the same way that I did, but I just decided to put mine on the chopping block and just go for it. I know there's a lot of fans out there that I've lost because of this, but I got into this business to make a living at something I really love doing, and they were trying to stop that as far as I'm concerned.
Dre also claimed that he is not trying to shut down Napster, he just wants his copyright protected material off the site. According to Napster that is impossible unless you ban specific users. His list of offending users tallied up to 250,000. Napster and pro-Napster advocates have a different claim regarding the effects of the program on the music industry. Napster does not supply any of the content that is traded on their database. They simple provide the place and the way in which users can trade, one-on-one, their own personal music files. Napster owner Shawn Fanning says this does not violate any copyright laws because they aren't giving anyone the protected material-it is entirely up to the users. Metallica responded to this by providing a list of offending users they wanted kicked off Napster for pirating their music. Many people also believe that Napster actually promotes cd sales, according to many people. As one user in Michigan pointed out, "My cd collection exceeds 350 cds, and 90 percent of the songs I download on Napster, I own. The few I don't are from one-hit wonders' and out of print songs that can only be found buried under three feet of records in a used music store." Napster also helps a lot of upcoming bands, claimed MTV news reporter Brian McFayden. "I think it's great for unsigned bands...because it cuts out the middleman and let's bands communicate with their fans directly, and I think it's another way for record companies to FIND bands that they haven't heard," Brian stated during a Napster special on MTV shown last may.
Many big artists have also shown their support for Napster. Rappers Chuck D and Cypress Hill, TLC, and hard rock groups such as The Offspring, Rage Against the Machine, and Limp Bizkit all have spoken up for Napster. Limp Bizkit and Cypress Hill teamed up to do a month's worth of touring for free in Napster's name. When questioned about the tour, Limp Bizkit's front man Fred Durst responded,'1he only people who are scared are people who are used to things going the old way and they're scared of change. Who cares? We're going to give it to you for free, and they're going to pay for it." The Offspring, meanwhile, were selling t-shirts and hats and other merchandise with the Napster logo on it. In an ironic turn of events, Napster gave a cease-and-des ist order to The Offspring to stop selling the merchandise with their logo on it. The Offspring and Napster now have plans to work together to ~offer a more complete line of Napster products. Rage Against the Machine at first, seemed to be on Metallica and Dre's side, when many users with Rage's new album on their hard drive got booted with the message "Denied Access By Sony\Rage_Mach". However, with an official statement to the public, guitarist Tom Morello gave the band's side to the story: "Rage Against the Machine would like to sincerely apologize to all our fans who were kicked off of Napster for downloading Renegades...The move to take action against Rage fans was taken completely unilaterally by our new management,'' Morello continued. "In their zeal to keep the record from getting out before the release date, they did not consult the band before instructing Sony Music Corp. to institute the Napster ban..'
Napster will be going through some major changes in the future in order to compromise with the Recording Industry of America (RIM) and the millions of people who use the program. Already Napster and BMG's parent company Bertelsmann AG have joined together to work out problems. BMG, one of the world's largest music labels and part of the RIM, has agreed to end their lawsuit against Napster. In exchange Napster will switch to a membership based system in which its 38 million users will pay a monthly fee of $4.95 for unlimited access. BMG said they will also make higher-quality music files by their own artists, such as Christina Aguilera, Dave Matthew Band, Santana, and Puff Daddy, available through Napster. This will all be available through the new version of Napster currently being developed by Bertelsmann's eCommerce Group. Bertelsmanns AG has high hopes for the future, as Bertelsmann's chairman and chief executive officer wrote, "Napster has pointed the way for a new direction for music distribution, and we believe it will form the basis of important and exciting new business models for the future of the music industry." Many people agree that Napster is a model for new ways to deliver music to the people. It should be taken advantage of, not destroyed by a few money grubbing record companies who lost a few million in record sales (which is all actually a lie, according to the sales charts which keep seeing new records set in sales). The artist Prince said it best in a chastising essay about the recording industry, '1hey 1record companies1 don't care about copyright infringement. They only care about lost sales." With the new system being developed for Napster users, the record companies won't have to worry about lost sales, as the money made from the monthly fees will be going to them and the artists. Others have already agreed to drop their lawsuits when this system goes into affect. Users should also have little to complain about, because $4.95 is a small price to pay for an unlimited amount of downloading time. So it seems that the Napster issue will be drawing to a close in the near future, all working to everyone's benefit.
What if the Metallica or Dr. Dre lawsuit managed to close Napster instead of just temporarily booting a few hundred thousand users? Would that be the end of file-swapping, free music? Absolutely not. Already many other sites have sprung up that deliver the same type of technology. A few of the bigger ones like Gnutella, Freenet, and Imesh already promise to be better than Napster by allowing users to swap more than just mp3. You can now trade anything from jpg. pics, to DVD movies, to mp3s, and any other file type you can think of. They are also a lot harder to hit, legally. Gnutella and Freenet use a special encryption system to protect users privacy, so no one can see what they are trading. Imesh is a web site based in Israel, so our laws don't affect them at all. Napster has been the pioneer and the easiest to reach, legally, so they've been taking all the heat. Even if Napster, Gnutella, Freenet, and Imesh were all forced to close, many more file-swapping sites would spring up in their wake. The technology Napster started is here to stay, whether the big corporations like it or not.
Analysis: '1hree-Judge Panel Hears Arguments From Both Sides in the Napster
Case". Morning Edition. Host Bob Edwards. NPR, New York. Oct 3, 2000.
MTV News. "Various Napster articles (about 30 total)". MTV. 2000.**
Laney, Derek. "Napster Aims to Promote New Artists, Small Labels". Reuters
Business Report. June 15, 2000.
Levy, Stephen. "The Noisy War Over Napster." Newsweek. June 5, 2000:46
Liao, Janet. "Agreement Will Force Napster Users to Pay for Downloading Songs."
University Wire 9. Nov, 2000.
Nazar, Daniel. "Column: Consumers Suffer in Napster Dispute." University Wire 29. Aug, 2000.
Reising, Joseph. "File Sharing Services Fight to Keep Music Free for Eager Fans".
University Wire 1. Nov, 2000.
**The MTV web site contained about 30 articles dealing with Napster,
all of which I read and/or used bits (quotes and info) from. They are all
way to long to list, however, so I am citing the web site instead. This
is where the bulk of my information came from.